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6 Wildlife Volunteer Programs Ideal for College Students and Post-Grads

Help is Needed for Endangered Species Abroad

By Lavanya Sunkara
Published 4/2016

Lions in Africa are endangered
Lions are endangered in Africa for a variety of reasons, but there exist volunteer projects to protect them from poachers.

The king of the jungle is slowly marching towards extinction. The bears of Asia are whiling away in cages in bile farms. Marine life is facing threats from climate change and pollution. The mighty elephants are being worked to death. Our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, are fighting for survival. While humans may be responsible for the plight of these animals, we also have the power to turn things around. We can promote animal welfare on social media, refrain from visiting aquatic theme parks and circuses, and we can send money to wildlife conservation organizations. But the best way to really help animals is by learning and doing.

With an increasing number of opportunities available across the globe, it’s become much easier to participate in programs crucial to species conservation. Spending a considerable amount of your time on the ground allows you to witness the change you are making for the wildlife and local communities, and inspires you to enact change in the future.

Whether you’re seeking your calling post-college, looking to gain experience in a particular field, or simply hoping to make a positive difference during a transition period, we’ve put together six amazing volunteer experiences that could make an indelible impact on both you and the animals.

1. Elephant Nature Park/Dog Project in Thailand

Volunteer to protect elephants from abuse
Help protect elephants from abuse as a volunteer in Thailand.

When you imagine elephants in Thailand, your first thought is probably to ride them. Sadly, elephants found in parks and trekking companies have undergone tremendous torture in order to be suitable for riding. They are chained when not working, and poked with bullhooks by their handlers when they don’t cooperate. Elephant Nature Park (ENP), located north of Chiang Mai, is a true sanctuary for abused and neglected elephants, where they can live out their lives in peace. There are no chains and no rides given, only love and care. Volunteers have a life enhancing opportunity to be around these majestic creatures, get a fascinating look into the lives of Asian elephants, and come away with a real sense of the issues they face. They help with preparing food, planting trees, maintaining mud pits, and the most fun part: feeding and bathing elephants in the river. Volunteers can also spend time at the Dog Project, which hosts several rescued dogs at ENP. Onsite, comfortable accommodations are provided along with meals, including vegan and vegetarian options.  

Age: 18+; Teens must be accompanied by legal guardian  
Duration: Minimum two weeks
Price: US$700 for two weeks

2. Bali Sea Turtle Rescue

Volunteer to care for injured sea turtles
Volunteer to care for injured sea turtles in Bali received from local fisherman.

Our oceans are getting increasingly polluted. You may have seen distressing images of sea turtles with plastic forks and straws embedded in their noses. Thankfully, there are organizations helping to rescue these marine animals in need. On the island of Nusa Penida, a 45-minute speedboat ride from mainland Bali, GoEco volunteers work with an organization that spreads conservation-based knowledge while assisting and caring for turtles. The project receives the injured reptiles from local fisherman and cares for them until they can be released into the sea. Volunteers nurture new hatchlings until they are old enough to survive on their own. Mornings are spent with specific projects at the sanctuary, while afternoons are dedicated to the community, teaching local children about the environment and marine life care. Free time activities include yoga, relaxing at Sanur beach, trekking up volcanoes, cycling through town, and enjoying the beautiful culture of Bali. Accommodations are provided within a five minute walk from the project site.

Age: 16+
Duration: 2-12 weeks
Price: US$900 for two weeks

3. Lions, Conservation and Community in Zambia

The mighty roar of the African lion is slowly being silenced. Habitat loss, bushmeat trade, trophy hunting, and human conflicts are threatening the survival of these regal beasts. They are also poached for illegal trade to Asian countries, where demand has increased for big cat bone powder for its supposed medicinal value. The Lions, Conservation, and Community program with African Impact works with communities in Zambia to implement ways to protect the wild cats. Volunteers will join the African Lion & Environmental Research Trust (ALERT) and Wildlife Encounter in Livingstone in Zambia at Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, home to Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River. They will participate in all aspects of running the project, from conducting research to general conservation activities, including: preparing food for the lions, assisting with veterinary care, and conducting research to better understand behavior. Accommodations are provided in the national park, in a house surrounded by beautiful woodlands and grasslands, with plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife.

Age: 18+
Duration: Minimum two weeks
Price: From US$1914 for two weeks

4. Belize-Caribbean Manatee Adventure

Have you ever thought that you could live in paradise while helping animals? Now you can with Discover Corps in Central America alongside experts to preserve the endangered manatee. Belize is home to the world’s second largest barrier reef and some of the most pristine rainforests on the planet. Volunteers spend part of the time monitoring the health of the manatee population, which has been severely affected by human impact habitat loss. A typical day involves exploring unique ecosystems by boat, scouting for manatees, and collecting and inputting data to implement measures to protect these marine mammals. Afternoons are usually spent snorkeling, zip-lining across the Rio Grande, and exploring cave systems tucked into the rainforest. Volunteers also get a chance to mingle with locals, visit ancient Mayan ruins, and relax on the white-sandy beaches. Lodging is provided in the rainforest and along the coast. All meals and activities are included.

Age: 18+
Duration: 8 days/7 nights
Price: From US$2,895

5. Cambodia Bear Sanctuary

Bears in Asian countries are in desperate need of our help. They are imprisoned and tortured in bear bile farms where their digestive fluid is extracted for traditional Asian medicine. Globalteer works with The Bear Rescue Sanctuary, located 25 miles south of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh. The Sanctuary is dedicated to the rehabilitation of sun bears and Asiatic black bears poached for their bile, exploited as pets, used for profit within the tourism industry, or rescued from illegal wildlife trade. Many of these bears cannot be reintroduced into the wild due to the serious physical abuse they have endured or because they were raised in captivity. The Sanctuary gives the bears the quality of life they deserve, providing large areas that match their natural habitat. Volunteer tasks involve feeding the bears, along with repairing, maintaining and cleaning enclosures. Most of the work is geared towards enriching the lives of the bears, to make their existence as interesting and challenging as possible, to avoid boredom and stress. Volunteers share housing on the outskirts of a rural Cambodian village, roughly 6 miles from the sanctuary. Weekend getaways include visiting the temples of Angkor Wat and the beach resort of Sihanoukville.

Age: 21+
Duration: 1-8 weeks
Price: US$835 per week

6. Chimpanzee Sanctuary & Wildlife Orphan Care in Zambia

Chimpanzee populations in Africa are dwindling due to the bushmeat trade; they are often torn from the wild for placement in circuses, zoos and animal testing labs. Chimfunshi in Zambia is a refuge for 120 rescued chimps, where they can live in safety. African Impact’s volunteer program works with Chimfunshi to help care for these primates. Participants are encouraged to be creative in coming up with ways to stimulate chimps and encourage mental development, as behavioral enrichment is vital to their well-being. Volunteers make toys and derive food-based challenges in the enclosures, such as tire swings, shaking boxes with food inside, creating peanut mazes, and hiding treats in difficult to reach places. They also assist with the onsite fruit tree nursery and with building thatched shelters, mending fences and improving infrastructure. Most importantly, participants get to take chimpanzees on walks in the bush guided by a trained handler. This is the perfect opportunity to interact with our closest cousins in their natural surroundings. Living and dining areas are under a thatched roof. Volunteers can spend their free time visiting nearby villages, going on safari, and taking canoe excursions.

Age: 18+
Duration: 2-12 weeks
Price: US$1947 for two weeks

(Editor's note: Check all programs for more details).

Related Topics
College and Graduate Volunteering Abroad
More by Lavanya Sunkara
10 Projects for Volunteers to Help Endangered Animals Abroad
5 Wildlife Volunteer Programs Abroad for Teens
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